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Michal Handzus keeps Blackhawks alive in double-overtime win

Updated: May 29, 2014 11:39AM



If they do it now, if the Blackhawks somehow come all the way back and return to the Stanley Cup Final and whatever comes after that, this will be the one people remember. This game, this moment, this jaw-dropping, head-spinning display of speed, of skill, of character, of hockey at its finest.

Oh, they’ll remember the perfect start and then the disastrous middle. They’ll remember Ben Smith tying the game 77 seconds into the third period, and they’ll darn sure remember Michal Handzus — of all people, Michal Handzus — winning it 2:04 into the second overtime.

After all, Handzus’ slick roofed backhander — off Brandon Saad’s third point and Patrick Kane’s fourth assist of the night — is what gave the Hawks the 5-4 win over the Kings, staving off elimination in Game 5 of the Western Conference final and sending the series back to Los Angeles on Friday with the Kings holding a now more precarious 3-2 lead.

But more than anything — if the Hawks do manage to come all the way back — people will remember a breathless, exhilarating, exhausting overtime which saw the Hawks and the Kings throw everything they had at each other, which saw Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick shake off poor starts for spectacular finishes, which saw endless chances and end-to-end action.

It was the period of the year in the game of the year. It took just 26 real minutes to play 20 game minutes.

“That might have been the greatest overtime I’ve ever seen,” said Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, not a man prone to hyperbole.

The high-end play made it sensational, but it was the stakes that made it unforgettable. A Kings goal and the Hawks’ defense of their Stanley Cup championship ends. A Hawks goal, and they get new life as a seemingly insurmountable 3-1 series deficit suddenly looks a lot more surmountable.

The crowd gasped with each Kings rush — Crawford with big stops on Marian Gaborik and Jarret Stoll. The crowd roared with each Hawks rush — Quick with big stops on Saad and Kane, the two making magic all night on the second line together. In between, the crowd held its collective breath as the two teams spent nearly no time in the neutral zone, trading chances back and forth. At one point, nearly eight minutes passed without a whistle.

“Overtime was crazy,” said Crawford, who said he had “no time to get nervous.” “It was loud in here. Probably the loudest it’s been all year. Our crowd was cheering before whistles to get us going.

It was a taut finish to a loose game. The game was emblematic of the whole postseason run for the Hawks, who look unstoppable at times and out of gas at others, unable to put together 60 solid minutes. Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya scored to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead less than four minutes in, but the perfect start appeared to be the beginning of the end. After Stoll and Saad traded goals, Gaborik scored to make it 3-2, still in the first. Then Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson scored in the second to make it 4-3 Kings — the league-leading fourth time this postseason that the Hawks squandered a two-goal lead.

But Duncan Keith, who said the Hawks are trying to focus on the small picture — each game, each period, each shift, not the three straight games needed to win the series — said the Hawks never had any doubt. Never had time to, really.

“You’re just playing,” he said. “Just stay positive and have faith in the team and in one another and in yourself. … We know we’ve got a lot of character in this room.”

Said Handzus: “We put everything on the line.”

Last year in Detroit, the Hawks came back from 3-1 down to win the second round series. In that one, in Game 6, Handzus scored 51 seconds into the third period to tie the game and spark a massive win. In this one, it was Smith scoring 77 seconds into the third period to do the same, with Handzus winning it in the second overtime. That’s the much-maligned Handzus, a penalty-killing specialist who struggled all season to keep up with Kane on the Hawks’ second line, lost the spot to Andrew Shaw, then returned there for overtime to score the goal of the year, in the game of the year.

“That was a fun hockey game to play in,” Crawford said. “Even more fun to win.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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